About productivity, efficiency and motivation

When Alex Duloz asked me on January 1st this year, if I want to write a piece for “The Human In The Machine” on his new collective blogging platform SuperYesMore, I somehow directly agreed to do it. I knew of Alex because of his past project called The Pastry Box Project and I thought it might be nice to add something. I thought I might think about productivity and what it means to me, how I define the term productivity for me. First I thought it might be easy going, but then it dawned on me that it would not be as easy as I thought.

A notebook with my thoughts on productivity vs motivation
Some thoughts on productivity vs motivation.

First of all I wasn’t even sure what productivity and being productive really means. Sure, I could have had a look in the dictionary and have a definition in general, but for me and my work, what does it mean in this relation.

While I was sitting at my desk, checking and reading several sources on how other people think about productivity and what it means to them, it more and more got clear to me, how much two other terms are connected to productivity for me:

  • Motivation
  • Efficiency


Let’s focus on the motivation part for a moment. I have no idea how your day looks and how you motivate yourself to get up and work. I myself am totally not a morning person, but since I have a family and kids going to school and kindergarten every day, I – if I don’t want to live a parallel life – have to somehow adapt to their daily rhythm. I write this, as this is a first big step to get productive everyday. To motivate myself to get out of bed early and not live a life, sleeping until 10am or 11am to get up into my studio around noon and work until late in the night.

When this first step is taken, a day usually does not look like a constant stream of productivity, efficiency and certainly not motivation. So, I was wondering and asked how other people motivate themselves, if they have these moments of disencourage. I read a lot about how people try to structure their workday with lists, GTD tools and techniques like The Pomodoro Technique and alike. What I did not find too often was something about how people motivate themselves.

To sum-up, what I heard from other people and what also my way of motivating myself is and therefore how they/I get productive again:

  • get unproductive and completely de-focus from work
  • distract with other activities
    • get out of your office/house, take a walk or run
    • have a coffee/tea/drink (but not at your desk, of course)
    • have a nap
    • tinker and play
    • do sports
    • listen to or – even better – make music

I often read that people can’t focus on something for a full workday of 8 hours anyways. The time people are able to focus on something is different from person to person. But isn’t it way better to be productive for 4 hours or even 2 hours, but being really motivated and able to get stuff done than hanging around for 8 hours and feeling unproductive and empty? De-focus to re-focus again. Which brings me to another point …


Certainly efficiency is something we also define for ourselves. How efficient you work and if you are satisfied by the end of the day/week/month/year, is something only you can tell and evaluate. Not your boss. Not your client. You.

Everybody works in a different speed and gets work done slower or faster. If you have deadlines or a boss standing in your back and they generally like the outcome of your work, they should learn to give you the time and freedom to get your work, your projects done and calculate with your pace. If you work for your own and have no one telling you, you are too slow or un-efficient, you should sit down from time to time, to reflect and think about your work and how you used your time. This is what I do. I take my time and think about how I got certain tasks done. But you have to be honest to yourself. It sometimes is frightening and feels demotivating in the first place. But if you do this regularly and really sit down from time to time, to evaluate your way of working, it helps.

Not only does it help to make you a happier person as you are improving, but it also helps to get a better feeling for what you do. Also if you work for clients and not, like in my case, on your own event or your own product. And with feeling, I don’t only mean the feeling for how much worth your time is, as you are able to estimate this way better, if you actually know how long it takes you to get something done. No, I also mean this feeling of being unproductive. You learn to understand, that this sometimes is exactly this: just a feeling. And with being self-confident that you do work efficient and are productive, you can fight this feeling. You are able to measure your productivity.

A notebook with some thoughts on productivity vs efficiency
What is efficiency? And who decides how efficient you are? – Click for full size image …

Enjoy what you do

All productivity and efficiency aside: I’m a huge believer in the idea of that only what you like to do, what you are motivated to do, is something that you are able to do in a good way. At least in long term you will end up hating what you do and yourself for doing it, if you don’t enjoy it. I don’t say: be a dreamer, believe in and love what you do and then the success is coming automatically as it was waiting exactly for you and your idea. Nope. This is something completely different and not as easy as it sounds sometimes.

What I say is more or less meant the other way around: the stuff you don't like to do is going to kill you and your motivation in the end. It sometimes takes quite some courage to make a decision and it even is pure laziness maybe, next to fear of course, stopping us from making a big change. Not only work related. But if you don’t change it, you never know, if maybe this change would have been something that made you happy … or happier at least.